American hostages spend night in captivity

Being trapped on an airplane for nine hours and not being allowed to leave strikes me as false imprisonment, and I'm not sure I'm buying the airline's explanation that the "rules" required passengers to stay on the plane:

47 passengers [...] spent the night trapped inside a small airplane, parked at the Rochester airport, complete with crying babies and the aroma of over-used toilets.

The ExpressJet Airlines that operated the plane says the flight was diverted to Rochester because of Twin Cities thunderstorms, and that airline regulations prevented passengers from getting off the plane.

A law professor who was aboard is not buying their explanation, nor am I:
"It's not like you're on a [Boeing] 747 and you can walk around,'' said Christin, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law. "This was a sardine can, with a single row of seats on one side of the plane and two rows of seats on the other. And they've got about 50 people inside, including babies, for the whole night. It was a nightmare.''

Continental Airlines, which issued the tickets for Flight 2816, referred inquiries to ExpressJet Airlines. ExpressJet spokesperson Kristy Nicholas said the flight ran into several problems.

The airline crew on the plane reached their maximum work hours in the air, so another crew had to be flown in. The alternative of chartering a bus didn't work out. And letting the passengers into the Rochester airport was not possible because they would have to go through security screening again, and the screeners had gone home for the day.

What about just letting the passengers sleep in the airport terminal? "That was not provided as an option by ground services personnel at the airport,'' said Nicholas.

Go through security again?

Passengers already on planes do not have to go through security again when exiting a plane, so it wouldn't make any difference whether the screeners had gone home. Or whether sleeping in the terminal was "provided as an option" or not. (And if they had to let them leave in an unsecured area outside the terminal, then there's no need for screeners!)

No wonder people hate air travel. These callused employees seem to think that that because you've bought a ticket onto some stupid flight that they own your life.

I hope the passengers sue and I think that they'd have been fully justified in simply leaving the plane. You know, like politely saying that they wanted to leave, and then opening the door and getting out?

Or would they have been shot for trying to escape?

Don't laugh. I haven't looked up the laws, but it would not surprise me if a SWAT Team could actually be legally deployed in the event of such an escape attempt. Moreoever, I think that the pettily sadistic type of mind it takes to keep passengers trapped in a plane all night would much prefer to arrange a heavyhanded law enforcement response than have the TSA bring the screeners back in (assuming the latter were even needed, which I doubt).

Sorry if I'm sounding pissed, but this is not right. I hope the passengers sue and end up bankrupting this poor excuse for an airline. Short of violence, litigation is the only language they seem to understand.

posted by Eric on 08.09.09 at 03:31 PM


They should have popped the emergency doors and jumped out.

Bob Sykes   ·  August 9, 2009 4:51 PM

I wonder was the door locked from the outside?

Yehudit   ·  August 9, 2009 5:21 PM

call 911 and say you're being held hostage

newrouter   ·  August 9, 2009 8:17 PM

I think this is one of those "perfect storm" moments.

The passengers on this plane happened to subject to crew member flight hours, terminal rules and TSA rules... as well as just being unfortunate.

HOWEVER, rules which do not allow for extreme circumstances and cooperation between/among various authorities are... senseless. As in common senseless.

What really occurred here is that NO ONE was empowered to say "this is ridiculous" and no one was empowered to even "fake" that concern.

Everyone who could have done something was assured they would lose their jobs if they did what common sense required.

The nullification of common sense will result in terrible situations... one of which you document.

Donna B.   ·  August 9, 2009 9:05 PM

I don't get why they couldn't stay in the terminal either. They already went through security.

Once we had to land to pick up another flight attendant since one got sick, and it was only a 1 hour wait but they still let us all off into the terminal.

plutosdad   ·  August 9, 2009 9:20 PM

That's SOP for UAL.

I'm not sure they know any other way.

Larry Sheldon   ·  August 9, 2009 9:54 PM

Lots of rules substituting for judgment here, including the the rules followed by all the passengers on board.

Nine times out of ten, following the rules is good for everyone. Does this occasion fall to being that tenth time?

I got all twitchy when I read this in the news earlier today, thinking about what I would have done if I were one of the passengers. At first I was sure I would have tried to build some insurrection. Then I decided I would practice my deep breathing relaxation techniques.

Penny   ·  August 9, 2009 11:00 PM

If this had happened at Gitmo, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch would be screaming for indictments right now.

If the best excuse for not letting the passengers out was that they would have to pass through security again -- and the only alternative was nine hours trapped in metal tube that stunk of chemically-treated feces, well, much as I hate TSA security, I think the choice is obvious.

I think the lawsuit should be for the tort of false imprisonment.

Rhodium Heart   ·  August 10, 2009 1:15 AM

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